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The dispute between Texas and the White House over border control escalates

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

The dispute between Texas and the Biden administration over immigration and border control is escalating.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The Texas attorney general says federal Border Patrol agents may not access a strip of land on the northern bank of the Rio Grande river. This is a bit of land that's been used for illegal border crossings. And on orders from Governor Greg Abbott, Texas seized control of a park in that border city of Eagle Pass to try to deter migrant crossings.

MARTÍNEZ: Julian Aguilar with The Texas Newsroom is following the story. He joins us now from El Paso. Two weeks of this border standoff, what's the state of Texas' argument for its hard-line stance?

JULIAN AGUILAR, BYLINE: Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton again told the Department of Homeland Security, in short, Texas isn't budging and won't surrender control of Shelby Park. That's the area in Eagle Pass that was heavily traversed by migrants who were seeking asylum until Texas National Guard and state police took control. Paxton's response came after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last week that U.S. Border Patrol agents can remove some of the barriers erected by state officers, which includes miles of razor wire. Agents said they have a right to access the river to perform their duties, which include apprehending migrants and processing them according to federal law.

But here's Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick on Friday, basically telling the federal government, give it up and move on.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DAN PATRICK: So I would say to President Biden, you say you want to secure the border. You can prove it by getting out of our way here. You don't need to be here.

MARTÍNEZ: So, OK, Texas is a state which sits on the border with Mexico, but Texas is part of the United States, so that makes its border with Mexico America's border with Mexico. So, Julian, what's the question here?

AGUILAR: So this all centers on who has the authority to control the borders and immigration. Texas' actions are part of Operation Lone Star, which Governor Greg Abbott initiated three years ago to stop what he claims are the Biden administration's, quote, "open border policies." And while Border Patrol agents apprehend and process migrants, which is part of their job, Texas is arguing that migrants should be arrested on the spot and detained. And that's what state officers have been doing with control over the park - arresting migrants on trespassing charges. That's different from what federal agents do when they detain migrants, then release some of the migrants while they await immigration hearings.

MARTÍNEZ: But how can the state continue to block access even after the Supreme Court order? I mean, is Texas openly defying the Supreme Court here?

AGUILAR: So legal experts say that Texas isn't in outright defiance of the Supreme Court order - at least not yet. So the 5-4 order only vacated a lower court order that forbade federal agents from cutting the wire as the case plays out in the courts. But the justices didn't explain why in their one-page order. Steve Vladeck, a constitutional scholar at the University of Texas at Austin, said the High Court's ruling essentially protects the federal government from sanctions if they remove the wire, but it didn't order Texas to withdraw or stop doing anything. The larger issue that the court will eventually have to tackle is who is the supreme authority on immigration, individual states or the federal government?

MARTÍNEZ: And immigrant rights groups are voicing concern that this whole thing could escalate. I mean, how worried are people about that?

AGUILAR: Yeah, sure. So nerves are somewhat frayed, but, you know, it's not as if state guard troops and federal agents are locked and loaded and pointing weapons at each other. In the past, there has been good cooperation between the state and federal officers. Specifically, state officers turn over migrant women and children to Border Patrol on most occasions.

But a group that calls itself Take Our Border Back put out on social media an open call to active and retired law enforcement and military, ranchers, truckers and other, quote, "freedom-loving Americans" to rally in Arizona, California and Eagle Pass, Texas, this weekend to call on the federal government to, quote, "secure the border." It's billed as a peaceful event, but there have been reports of messages and online chat rooms that include some alarming language that gives a nod to vigilantism and possible violence.

MARTÍNEZ: That's Julian Aguilar with The Texas Newsroom. Thank you.

AGUILAR: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Julian Aguilar